Shop Layout Tips and Techniques

Paper models make visualizing your shop floor easier, and good planning can really boost your workflow. May 10, 2005

We are in the process of designing a new shop building and although I have a pretty good idea of my size and layout (40'x60'), I would like to tinker with it to scale. It seems I read on here some time ago about a download that would allow me to draw to scale and place and move tools, etc. around. I don't have any CAD or drafting type programs other than my Kcdw. Any suggestions other than resorting to graph paper and cut-outs?

Forum Responses
From contributor E:
I don't think cutouts are so bad. Done it that way myself.

From contributor C:
Paper is really the best place to play with design. The computer is a wonderful tool for drawing, but design studies are quick and effective on paper. Just cut out to scale all of your major equipment and configurations of work areas. They are quickly and easily moved around on a sketch of the floor plan.

In a shop of this size, I would consider putting casters on everything but the largest and most stationary of tools. I would also give much consideration to the flow pattern for your particular operation (bringing raw material through to finished product) and group equipment and assembly stations so that they are moving through an assembly line, so to speak. The casters will assist in rearranging the assembly line for particular projects. Try to build in flexible areas that can accommodate some future growth, as you will fill up whatever space you have. I recently moved out of the 1000sf shop on my property into 5000sf and it is amazing what possibilities come up when you have some space.

From contributor R:
Go to the Grizzly web site - they have a new free one that you can use.

From contributor W:
Check out the workshop planner offered by Grizzly. Just pick shapes that match the size of your machinery. Remember to allow space for materials as they move through production.

From contributor T:
I would do three things.

1) Do a web search on Lean Manufacturing/Value Stream Mapping. This is essentially a process where you arrange your machinery on paper. Put a pencil tip to the page at where you start the process and then chase the product through the shop. If you don't lift your pencil off the page you will probably see something that resembles spaghetti. If this is the case, your shop arrangement will result in a production path that resembles a plate of spaghetti.

2) Buy a 6000Lb pallet jack and put as many machines as you can onto skids. You can buy this jack for about $300-$400 new. This pallet jack will allow you to stop making monuments out of your machine locations. (Instead of arranging machines for worst case scenario, make them easy to move around for flexible scenario.)

3) Buy a scissor-lift work bench ($4000). This will increase your shop real estate because not only do you get a high/low bench in the same footprint, but you can also lift a wide (heavy) cabinet and pull it through a narrow corridor. (Imagine three feet between machines and a five foot wide island. The scissor lift is only 30 inches wide where it matters.)

And since you are doing this web search, learn a bit about LEAN principles. These will allow you to produce in a 2400 SF shop what you otherwise would need 4000 SF for.

From contributor V :
I wish you the best of luck, but if you don't have a clue about space planning, get a professional. If you have the time and patience to rearrange everything every six months, then you should give it a try. It's just like designing something for yourself. You really can't separate your wants from your needs. That's why I am suggesting a pro.

From contributor L:
If there is one thing I've learned about shop layout - plan for the future. Difficult, but sure saves in the long run. You will add tools, change methods, add or reduce employees. Where do you want to be in 3, 5, 7 years? Wish I had put in buss duct. A big floor plan, heavy paper machines, translucent panels or boards indicating in and out path of material. Push pins at each machine with colored string showing the path of different parts through the shop. My guys now assume we will relocate something every year. Consider conveyors, they force organization!

From contributor T:
With all due respect, I disagree about conveyors. I think they are just glorified carts. Whenever something hits a cart, it dies. It was making motion and now it is dormant. Arrange your shop so that when it comes off the planer, it goes on the chop saw. When it comes off the chop saw, it goes in the shaper. When it comes off the shaper, it goes in the door clamp. Let your machine stations be the conveyor.

From contributor L:
Buy a copy of Bill Norlin's "The Business of Woodwork." You should also read "The Goal." I'm a fan of work cells and minimum travel - people and materials. We had carts, lots of carts. They were always in the wrong place, had to be moved empty back to the beginning of the process, could easily be pushed out of the way to expedite some job (a very bad practice). A one or three man shop may not need conveyors. There was considerable resistance to them in this shop; I don't think anyone here now would go back to carts. The rules here are: constant improvement, best practices.

From contributor S:
When we set up our new shop, we made a 3 dimensional model scaled 1/2 to the foot. I would never use a computer or paper again. I painted all the blocks to represent the machines the same colours so I recognized them immediately (the washers sunk into kerfs were nice touches on the table saws). When you are laying out a shop you think you are deciding on machine placement, but you are really deciding on aisle placement. Congestion is not necessarily a product of the amount of machinery in a shop, but more like the result of a bad work flow arrangement. Arrange machines so workers do not need to pass each other. Get the cords and hoses up into the air so that carts can move freely.